By Severino C. Samonte

The Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Tala: Now and Then

On April 22, 2023, Manila Times columnist and noted book author, movie scriptwriter and director Mauro Gia Samonte (no direct relationship with this writer except for having the same family name and being a newfound Facebook friend) had a captivating write-up about the former Central Luzon Sanitarium and Hospital in Tala, Novaliches, North Caloocan City.

In his "My Say" column, subtitled "Death be not Proud -- There's the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium (DJNRMHS)," Samonte of Antipolo City narrated that he was referred by the One Hospital Referral System (OHRS) of the Department of Health for admission at the Tala Hospital for urgent dialysis treatment on April 16, 2023.

He said his impulse reaction was: "No, please, I am too far off from Antipolo, and I intend to be an out-patient only for my dialysis procedure." He finally consented after somebody having a say on policy matters in the OHRS called up to ascertain whether he was really rejecting the Tala Hospital. The caller convinced him that there were quite a number of similar cases in his situation at that time and he should feel thankful he "was preferred among the heap."

At the Tala Hospital, Samonte said he got the greatest surprise of his 81-year life when the nurse, who performed on him at the driveway the nitty-gritty of emergency room acceptance of patients, reminded him that the hospital does not accept payment. "Bawal ang pera dito" (money is not allowed) here, the nurse said, which forced him to turn over his wallet containing cash and credit and other cards to his son who had convoyed with the ambulance that took him to the hospital.

He noted that undergoing the first cycle of medical services at the DJNRMHS has been enough to arrive at a dawning that it is possible to have a system where the delivery of health services is not a profit-driven enterprise but one solely geared for the promotion of life, hence the advancement of peace and prosperity for the whole humankind.

Samonte recalled that the first time he had a catheter dialysis access implanted on his neck at a hospital in Binangonan, Rizal, he was billed PHP165,000, including the professional fees for the nephrologist, the anesthesiologist, and the surgeon. He said when a month after that access had to be replaced with an artificial graft artery at the Antipolo Doctors' Hospital, it cost him another PHP40,000.

Thinking it is unbelievable that there is a hospital that chastises patients for bringing cash, he decided to ask his attending physician, Dr. Michaela Aguilar, about it.

"One thing that immediately got my attention about this hospital is the constant reminder 'bawal ang pera,'" he told the lady doctor, who confirmed it, saying: "You don't have to spend for anything here." After getting that answer, he concluded his column with these words:

"By firsthand account, I'd dare proclaim the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium the first truly God-given medical center I have ever gone through in my entire 81 years. Every member of the medical staff stands out as far more than the strict professionals they had been academically trained to be. I have never observed any of the staff nurses, medical technologists and maintenance people wearing pouts on their faces.

"Rich, pure humanism pervades every element of service. Where else is there any other hospital whose staff goes out of the way to share their snacks with patients. Just little things really, but truly little things that mean a lot, like being assured of life continuing still, after all, when all hopes for it seemed to have faded."

COMMENTARY: As the DJNRMHS is located in the Novaliches area, I was so impressed with Samonte's glowing words for the hospital doctors and staff so I immediately searched for his name on FB and upon finding it promptly sent a message, hoping that he would be able to read it while he was in a hospital bed.

In his succeeding MT column on April 29, he continued heaping praises for the DJNRMHS medical staff, including the current hospital chief and director, Dr. Alfonso Victonino H. Famaran Jr. This time, he concluded it with the following four paragraphs:

"Serving to vindicate the resolve of the DJNRMHS medical staff and personnel to pursue their mission of pushing the hospital to greater heights is this commentary suddenly coming from a newfound Facebook friend:

"Hi Mao, I am Severino Samonte of Novaliches and a retired editor of the Philippine News Agency. I just read your nice column today in the Manila Times about the Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Tala. I was surprised to know 'na ganoon na pala kagaling ang hospital na iyon' which was called the Central Luzon Sanitarium and Hospital in the 1970s. I have written a lot of news stories about that hospital then in both the PNS (Philippine News Service) and PNA. Wishing for your speedy recovery."

As a background, the CLS was one of the eight sanitaria in the country mandated to serve patients afflicted with Hansen’s disease, popularly known as leprosy. Along with two other leper colonies in Luzon, it was established in 1940 by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 161, which declared the leprosarium as a reservation and settlement area for Hansenites and their immediate families.

It originally had a total land area of 808 hectares, but was reduced to just 130 hectares at present. The reduction of the land area was to accommodate previous homeless treated patients who eventually settled and established their own community called Tala.

In 1970, the hospital began treating general medical cases (non-Hansen disease patients) when there was a high success rate of treatment of the first Hansen patients from research and the advancement of procedures done within the current medical practice. Due to the significant drop of Hansen patients, the hospital then considered an admission of general cases.

The DJNRNHS website says the hospital currently serves as the principal referral hospital for leprosy patients and the premier training and research center for leprosy care and management in the Philippines. It also serves the public health needs of community members of Tala and nearby areas.

On Dec. 24, 1980, under Batas Pambansa Blg. 94, the CLS was renamed as DJNRMHS in recognition of the outstanding services of its first director, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez, to leprosy patients.


About the Columnist

Image of Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.

He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.